Cochise County Sheriff’s Office forms new partnerships to fight human smuggling

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels speaks on a law enforcement partnership to help stop human smuggling, drug trafficking and other crimes.
Published: Oct. 24, 2023 at 12:44 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2023 at 4:40 PM MST
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SIERRA VISTA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, along with other law enforcement agencies including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, have announced a new partnership to battle human smuggling, drug trafficking and other crimes related to the U.S.-Mexico border. “There’s not a day goes by that we’re not dealing with pursuits and crimes of a serious nature involving this border,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Dannels says Mexican cartels are recruiting drivers as young as 13 years old to drive into Cochise County and to evade law enforcement at any cost, creating situations that are a huge risk to the safety of deputies and citizens. In September, a Cochise County sheriff’s deputy was seriously hurt trying to stop a suspected smuggler from escaping near Bisbee. Another deputy was injured days later during a high-speed chase on Highway 80 near Benson, which also involved a suspected case of human smuggling.

To help combat the crimes, the sheriff says what was once an effort limited only to Cochise County is expanding. In March of 2022, Dannel says the county launched a program between the sheriff’s office, county police departments, DPS troopers and field offices of various federal agencies to address border-related crimes. He says the program was initially successful but that in response, the cartels “upped their game.” Now, Operation Safe Street is expanding to include law enforcement agencies from other parts of the state.

“Enough is enough,” Dannels said. “So if you’re hearing me today, the cartels especially, we’re coming at you.”

Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes, who’s also the president of the Arizona Sheriff’s Association, says the impacts of these crimes are being felt beyond the state of Arizona. Rhodes says the Arizona Sheriff’s Association worked with the state legislature and the governor’s office to secure local border security funding in this year’s budget cycle, specifically $12.3 million to be distributed to state law enforcement agencies. Rhodes says that a request has been made to double that amount next year for this type of operation while also pointing out what he calls a too-little, too-late response from the federal government.

“Unfortunately, we have seen the federal funding request that was put forth by the White House earlier this week,” Rhodes said. “While we welcome it, it’s three years too late, and it does not go far enough because it does not address the impact on local law enforcement and local governments that are dealing with this man-made disaster every single day.”

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